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By Ted Schroder,
May 1, 2016

These words are the formula for stress reduction. We live in an age of stress where about 25 million Americans have high blood pressure, one million Americans have heart attacks each year, an estimated eight million have stomach ulcers, twelve million are said to be alcoholics, and more than 230 million prescriptions are filled each year for tranquilizers. That does not take into account the numbers of people who are seeking release from the stress in their lives through their addiction to drugs. Our body reacts to stress, such as anger or fear, through secreting epinephrine, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland upon stimulation by the central nervous system, which increases the heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac output, and carbohydrate metabolism.

We feel stimulation (the fight or flight syndrome) for a while, but if we continue this reaction we develop high blood pressure, blood clotting leading to heart attack, ulcers, heart rhythm abnormalities, diabetes and nervous colon. Managing our stress in a healthy way is central to experiencing the life in all its fullness that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came to bring - life in the Kingdom of God. Our instincts to survive and succeed in life motivate us to drive ourselves beyond our limits and to seek relief by various escape mechanisms. An essential component of any stress management program must be the truth contained in the 23rd Psalm.

"He makes me lie down in green pastures," is a prescription for stress relief. Sheep only lie down when they are free of fear, worry or anxiety, and when they have their stomachs full. They then rest, and digest their food. Lying down is profitable when we can rest. Rest is an essential part of life. We should rest one third of each day. The fourth commandment tells us that we should rest from our work at least one day in seven. God has designed us to function effectively when we have rested a sufficient number of hours. He makes us, that is, he has made us, requires us, to lie down. How does one find rest? We have to face up to our obsessive-compulsive needs. Why do we need to be busy all the time? What drives us? What terrifies us about not being active all the time? We are driven by the need to justify our own existence, to earn our self-esteem. American journalist and writer of the bestseller, Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom never had time for a family. "Instead, I buried myself in accomplishments, because with accomplishments, I believed I could control things, I could squeeze in every last piece of happiness before I got sick and died."

Compare our condition with the prescription of Scripture: "Anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did for his." The Sabbath is given to us to remind us that we need to balance our work with rest when, "You shall not do any work." People who don't learn to do this get sick. Then the words of the Psalm become very true: "He makes you lie down." It is true of too many of us that we can only relax without guilt when we get sick! The need to cease from our own work is tied up with our salvation. Our sinful nature wants to tell us that we are our own saviors. We act as though everything depended on us, and that we will only be acceptable to God if we are working all the time. Not so! We need to set time aside to lie down. Physical rest is essential, but so also is spiritual rest. That is why Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Here is the application of the Gospel. We, who experience weariness and the burdens of life, can come to Jesus who will give us rest. The gift of rest is experienced by accepting his leadership and learning from him. When we do that, we learn gentleness (meekness) and humility. The chief cause of unrest/stress is the absence of these two virtues. Scottish speaker Henry Drummond (1851-1897) writes in Pax Vobiscum,

"What are the chief causes of Unrest? If you know yourself, you will answer Pride, Selfishness, Ambition... Great trials come at lengthened intervals, and we rise to breast them; but it is the petty friction of our everyday life with one another, the jar of business or of work, the discord of the domestic circle, the collapse of ambition, the crossing of our will, the taking down of our conceit, which make inward peace impossible. Wounded vanity, then, disappointed hopes, unsatisfied selfishness -- these are the old, vulgar, universal sources of man's unrest... Nothing ever for a moment broke the serenity of Christ's life on earth...It is the perfect poise of the soul: the absolute adjustment of the inward man to the stress of all outward things; the preparedness against every emergency; the stability of assured convictions; the eternal calm of an invulnerable faith; the repose of a heart set deep in God." (See also: "The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap", John Koessler)

In the storms and battles of life we can still come to Jesus. He helps us to lie down and find rest for our souls. So much stress is caused by our need for acceptance, our need for approval, our need to succeed, our need to avoid failure and guilt. Jesus has paid the price on the Cross for our acceptance, our forgiveness, our sin and guilt. We must lay down in green pastures our self-justification, our striving, our fears and burdens, if we are to trust in Jesus. We must stop working and trust in his work on our behalf. We must trust in what he has done for us so that we might experience life in all its fullness. The supreme example of lying down for rest is shown by Jesus. He and the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee when, without warning, a furious storm came up, and waves started sweeping over the boat. Jesus slept through all of it. The disciples woke him up with pleas for him to save them, because they were going to drown. He rebuked them for their fears and lack of faith, and calmed the winds and the waves. Life can be like that. All of a sudden a storm occurs and we feel we are drowning in circumstances over which we have no control. This happened to me once when I was traveling in New Zealand. I found that I had to fly over the Southern Alps in a very small plane, which was nicknamed "The Flying Pencil". I feel much safer in a jumbo jet! Feeling very anxious, I took my seat in the plane and read the following prayer entitled, Tranquility, by Dean of York Minster, Eric Milner-White (1884-1963). Like the disciples in the boat, Jesus calmed the storm in my soul. By the time the plane lifted above the cloud-layer, and was pointed toward the distant line of the snow-covered peaks, I was calm, and miraculously enjoyed the flight immensely.

Lord Jesus, by thine own peace of soul,
rooted and living in the eternal Father,
serene in the hours of commotion and anguish,
grant me thy tranquillity.
Be my life hid in thine;
let thy fearless and imperturbable Spirit
come to dwell in mine.
Thou hast said, I will give you rest:
thy presence is our peace.
Whom then, what then, shall I fear?

Thou who guidest us in the calm
wilt not leave us in the storm.
So let me be still; and inwardly worship,
in private, in public, everywhere, always,
and know that thou art God,
my God, God with me.
Be thou the rock of my repose,
the moving pillar before and behind my pilgrimage;
not as the world gives
giving thy peace.


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